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The alliance partners are working to converge their connectivity activities—OnCommand Connection by Navistar (shown) and VW’s digital brand, RIO—to a Volkswagen Truck & Bus global connected vehicle platform. (image: Ryan Gehm)

Navistar, VW pursue common electric powertrain, global connectivity platform

At the inaugural North American Commercial Vehicle (NACV) Show in late September, Navistar president and CEO Troy Clarke signaled an acceleration of new product offerings and integrations stemming from its partnership with Volkswagen Truck & Bus. Chief among these activities, he said, is to converge the two companies’ connectivity activities and to develop an electric-powered, medium-duty truck for the U.S. and Canada by late 2019 or early 2020.

“Our alliance with Volkswagen Truck & Bus is allowing us to move much more quickly into electric propulsion thanks to our ability to leverage their technology investments and components in segments of the market where we’re already a leader,” Clarke said. “We believe the Class 6/7 vehicle is ideal for electric powertrain solutions in the near term, given its abundance of packaging space, and that these vehicles typically run short distances and can depot to recharge at the end of the day.”

Little more than a month after Clarke spoke those words in Atlanta, Navistar’s bus brand IC Bus unveiled the IC Electric Bus chargE, its new electric CE Series concept school bus developed with VW T&B. The zero-emissions bus, expected to be production-ready as early as 2019, represents the second electric powertrain vehicle coming out of the VW alliance, along with the aforementioned medium-duty electric truck.

“As battery technology evolves, we continue to explore a variety of electric technologies to meet our customers’ needs in the final design of the CE Series electric-powered school bus,” said Trish Reed, vice president and general manager, IC Bus.

The chargE concept bus incorporates a 260-kW (349 peak hp) electric drivetrain that’ll be common with VW and can be built to address various school bus customers’ specific requirements. The range of chargE is claimed to exceed 120 mi (193 km).

There’s a chance, however, the battery could be different for electric vehicles in the U.S. and Europe, Bill Kozek, president of Navistar’s North America Truck and Parts business, told media at the NACV Show. “We’re talking to a number of companies about their battery technology and controls. Those are the two main things—if you get those things right, everything else is kind of a commodity,” Kozek said.

He added that for heavy-duty vehicles, a hybrid-electric system is more suitable than all-electric—“at least in the near term.”

In response to upcoming stricter greenhouse gas emission regulations in the U.S. and globally, the maker of International Trucks and IC Bus vehicles is also collaborating with VW T&B to introduce fully integrated, next-generation big-bore diesel powertrains for North America. The co-developed diesels will power Navistar’s heavy-duty products beginning as early as 2021, according to Clarke.

“We believe a proprietary powertrain is important...yet we also understand the challenges of developing proprietary diesel technology on our own—quite a significant capital investment and therefore, significant scale to really do it right,” he said.

Collaboration on the cloud

The two CV makers also are working to converge their connectivity activities—OnCommand Connection by Navistar and VW’s digital brand, RIO—to a Volkswagen Truck & Bus global connected vehicle platform. The first step will be the adoption of common, in-cab connecting device hardware, according to Clarke.

“This will serve as a major step toward creating a global connected platform, covering roughly 650,000 vehicles worldwide, making it the world’s largest global ecosystem for commercial vehicles, once our migration is completed,” Clarke said.

VW T&B expects to launch the cloud-based, brand-independent platform by the end of 2017, which will be the basis for the cooperation.

“As soon as we can, we're going to go to a common in-cab hardware. That opens up a whole realm of things, because then we can share apps on our in-cab hardware,” Terry Kline, SVP and Chief Information Officer at Navistar, told Truck & Off-Highway Engineering. He declined to provide a specific timeframe for the move.

The common global platform means more data collection and analysis—which is critical for a company that views data as “the next crude oil,” Kline said. “But the other thing is, as we look at some of the load matchers and handlers, they're going to go global. So they're going to want a footprint, somebody globally who winds up with their processes and systems to be able to shadow them anywhere on the planet. That’s what this does; it basically says, ‘Anybody who wants a global package delivery, we've got the infrastructure and the knowledge of trucking logistics.’”

“Future transportation will massively be building on connectivity as this will make our world much more efficient,” Andreas Renschler, CEO of Volkswagen Truck & Bus, echoed in a statement. “The ecosystem we are about to create with our common platform will drive our strategic alliance to the next level.”

Navistar also reported at the NACV Show that the alliance’s procurement joint venture—Global Truck & Bus Procurement LLC—is off to a strong start. The team had met with more than 250 new and existing suppliers, and completed 40 joint bidding contracts, as of late September.

“We’re on track to achieve our expected cost savings thanks to our fast start with the procurement JV and the great progress on our technology collaboration,” said Clarke. “As a result, we are in a much more competitive position today in the areas that are quickly revolutionizing our industry globally.”

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